by Marcus Jonathan Chapman
“So, why’d you do
it?” Detective Sykes leaned over the metal table and stared at the murderer.
Well, he had still to confess but all video surveillance and eye-witness
testimony was pretty damning. Sykes looked at the two-way mirror, knowing his
partner was on the other side. He asked again, “Why did you do it, Percy?”
“I do not know. He
seemed like a pretentious prick. Or is it pompous? I do not know.” Percy
answered. Sykes noticed he had responded genuinely puzzled, as if he were
answering a different question, like “why’d you flip the guy off?” Or “Why’d
everyone boo when the guy walked in?”
Down at the
coroner’s office a medical examiner was inspecting the body of the victim. At
the scene of the crime, the unlucky had on black jeans so tight the EMT’s had
to cut them off. A short-sleeve
button-up shirt with a famous cartoon mouse and round-rimmed spectacles, pieces
of which were still mushed into the carne asada that was now his face.
Sykes thought about this face being cleaned up. The Diener picking out teeth, shards of glass, and chunks of carrot from the skull turned bowl now holding onto the pulp of the man’s features.
Sykes prodded Percy for more information.
“Did you know the
guy you killed before you saw him at Trader Joe’s?”
“I did not know him.
I did not want to. He had been at parties and other events where the same crowd
was. He always seemed uninterested in me and my wife.”
“What do you mean
“Well after a while,
you see someone enough, you eventually introduce yourself, or at least give a
knowing nod, you know?”
“So, he snubbed you.
Is that why you killed him?”
“I do not really
know. I do know that after a while of seeing him, my blood pressure would rise,
he would consume my thoughts and, well, he just became more stress than he was
Just like that, thought Sykes, kill a man
because you didn’t like his face? Sykes pressed Percy.
“You said he
consumed your thoughts, with what did he fill your mind?”
“At first, just
thoughts of telling him off—-well, no, actually, the first thought was of just
walking up and asking why he did not say anything to me or my wife.”
“Why didn’t you
“Because the thought
directly after that was, well what if he apologizes, maybe even profusely and
then I have to deal with him walking up to me at every party. I would never be
sure if he was genuine or not, knowing that I had once confronted him about not
“Do you always have
such a hard time with social mores, social norms?”
“Yes, I do.” Percy
said, as if answering the question, “do you have two eyes?”
Sykes leaned back
off the table, he crossed his arms and cocked his head. He’d personally
processed 27 murders in the last year alone, a comparatively slow year, but
still. This guy sitting in front of him was genuinely puzzling. No passion,
“So that’s why you
killed him, because you thought he’d never be a genuine friend?”
“No. Most people
fall into that category.” Said Percy.
“People who would
never be my genuine friend.”
“So, why’d you kill
“I do not know, I
just wanted him to end.”
Sykes could see that
the conversation was getting him nowhere. He looked at the two-way mirror and
scratched his ear. A signal to his partner that he was coming out. Sykes looked
back at Percy, then started for the door.
“Why do you need to
know why?” asked Percy as Sykes reached for the door knob. Percy continued.
“I mean you already
know I did it. You have my confession; you have camera footage and you have a
whole store full of people who will say I murdered him. Send me to prison, I’m
“Hungry for what?”
“Hungry for blood!”
Percy twisted his face and curled his fingers into claws. “I am kidding, no I am
just hungry for food. I mean a burger would be nice, but I will start getting
used to prison food. I am just regular old hungry, that is all.”
Sykes was starting to feel his blood pressure
rise. Percy’s nonchalance and sarcasm were tapping at the mercury thermometer
sticking in the area of Sykes’ brain in charge of temperament.
“Also, it is boring
in here.” Added Percy. Sykes paused and took a step backwards into the room. He
rolled his tongue between his top row of teeth and top lip, pressing it against
the roof of his mouth before he spoke.
“Would you say this
Percy didn’t answer
right way. Sykes asked again.
“Did you plan this
out and think it through before doing it?”
“No, I know what
pre-meditated means. I am just trying to understand if you are truly asking me
if I planned to kill him in the middle of a store full of people by beating his
face in with a larger than average carrot. Is that what you think I planned?”
Sykes didn’t want to get further away from
the point. So, he tried again.
“Had you ever
thought about killing him before that day in the grocery store?”
furrowed his brow and used his bottom teeth to pull his upper lip into his
mouth before answering.
“Sure, I thought
about it. Little day dreams here and there but nothing like a step-by-step
plan. I mean obviously that is not how it went down.” Percy paused then looked
at the two-way glass, he pointed between the glass and Sykes.
“Are you telling me
that as cops you guys never think about killing anyone? You know for the
betterment of humanity, to serve and protect, any of that stuff?”
Sykes took a quick
breath, it made him sound exasperated.
“Percy, we’re asking
the questions. But I’ll answer one you asked earlier. Why are we asking you?
Because we want to be able to give his family some sort of reason for their
loved one’s death. No matter how unreasonable.”
You imagine a satisfactory scenario in that conversation? Okay.” Percy raised
his arms as far as the handcuffs would let him, but the gesture he made still
looked grandiose. “I did it for the betterment of humanity! So that my son and
his sons and their sons would never have to lay eyes on such a smug,
pretentious asshole as he was.” Percy’s chains clanked on the table as he put
his hands down.
“Is that good? Can I
Sykes pulled the
chair back from the table and sat down.
“I’ll bring you food
if you tell me what I want to know. No sarcasm, no bullshit, tell me why you
really killed him, and I will bring you a burger.”
“A Tommy’s burger.”
“Fine, but you are
not going to like the answer because you have not liked the answer so far. It is
not going to change. I did not like him, and I saw him in the store, he did not
acknowledge me one too many times and I saw red. I guess it is what people call
a crime of passion.”
Sykes wiped his hand
over his mouth. “A crime of passion is a lover coming home to find their
partner in bed with another person and then killing one or both of them. A
person taking revenge. Usually they know the victim, or the victim has done
something. This guy you murdered was an acquaintance to you. Am I wrong?”
Percy slowly tilted
his head left and then right before answering. “I did not know him intimately,
but I saw him enough to where he was more than an acquaintance.”
“So, what was he to
squinted and looked up as if the answer was on the wall behind Sykes. He sucked
air through his teeth.
“I would say he was
more of a nuisance. I read something once. I think it is from the bible.”
religious?” Sykes glanced at the two-way mirror, as if to see his partners
“No, I just read
something once about god saying you are either cold or hot but if you are
lukewarm, I spit you out of my mouth.”
“So that’s what you
did, you spit him out of your mouth.”
that. I guess god had his criteria, or standards or boundaries, whatever you
want to call them. So, I guess I have found that I have my own criteria.”
“And what criteria
is that?” Sykes had his arms crossed on the table and he was leaning forward.
Percy raised an eyebrow and frowned. He swayed his head side to side slightly.
“Maybe it was just
him, I do not know. Who decided that certain drugs were illegal? I was not
involved in that.”
“You murdered a man.
Are you saying you think you are God?”
“No. And how do you know
what God is?”
“I don’t, but I
guess the idea of God is that he makes all final judgement about life and
death, right and wrong. Do you think you have that right? That power?”
“But at the very
least, you think you did the right thing?”
“Who is to say, in
my own little existence, that I did not do the right thing. Are you god?”
“You live in a
society and therefore you live by a social contract of written and unwritten
“I did not write
them. To me, every birth is a revolution. A life is uncontrolled by the law’s
others have created, though definitely others try to impose those laws. My
current situation is a perfect example of that.” Percy made to motion with both
hands around the room, his chains prevented it. “We have the right to exist
however we wish.”
“But there are
consequences, you may very well spend the rest of your life in jail.”
“So what? How is
that different than your life now?”
“I’m not a prisoner.
I’m free to move and do things as I please. I haven’t killed anyone.”
“You are being a
prisoner right now. You think your freedom is about being able to move anywhere
and touch anything, but your thought is restricting you.”
“I think I’m
understanding why you killed him.”
“Because I could.
Because my mind is uncontrolled by your legislature and other nonsense. You can
lock me in a casket or put me in a field, but my mind is free.”
You’re rocketing way past Pluto with no sign of slowing down.”
“See, your mind is
so tangled, officer, tangled up with the things others have told you, with the
laws you choose to serve and protect, with tales of morality that either end
with eternal damnation or eternal paradise. These are prisons because they
shape a mind before it has a chance to shape itself.”
“So, you’re not
religious. You don’t believe in god?” asked Sykes.
“You are still doing
it. I either am or am not religious to you. There is either god or no god to
you, but have you ever thought that is such a narrow existence?”
“So, what do you
Percy shrugged and
lifted his hands before letting them drop on the table.
“There is no point.
You will write me off as crazy, if you have not already. You just want to know
so you can tell your buddies this story later. Just lock me up in your prison
and let us be done with this.”
“You’re right, but
why don’t you humor me. I’ll order you that burger from Tommy’s.”
Now Percy smiled.
“See I cannot even escape myself.” He sat looking at the table.
“So?” said Sykes.
“I believe a virus
infects us. It is a simple virus that plagues the brain and does not allow it
to see things as they are, but rather forces the mind to create meaning.”
“Yes. I believe a
virus of meaning infects us all. This entire conversation you have been
wondering why I killed him, and you will probably always wonder why on some
level. That is a symptom of the virus. You cannot simply accept that I killed him. You, his family, his friends, must know
Sykes raised his
eyebrows and looked straight at Percy.
“You never wonder
why about anything?”
“Of course, I do.”
“So, you’re infected
with the virus of meaning?”
“Of course, I am. Unlike
you, I am simply aware of it.”
Sykes continued with
his eyebrows raised. Percy finally shrugged his shoulders and went on.
“Because I know
about the virus. Because I recognize I am infected, I recognize a flaw, much in
the same way an alcoholic knows they cannot drink without control. If they do,
the knowledge of their abuse of it taints all drinking experiences thereafter.”
“So how does that
work for your virus?”
“Well, though I
cannot prove a virus exists, I believe it does because no one has exhibited any
evidence to the contrary. Everyone has to know why and even if they never
audibly ask the question, the question gnaws away at their mind.”
“What’s wrong with
“Nothing, they are
meaningless but symptomatic of the virus of which I am speaking.”
“You’ve asked me a
few questions in the time you’ve been in this room.”
“I am sure I have; I
am only human.”
“So, questions are
“There is a view, a
popular view, that questions and inquiry lead to a path of understanding and enlightenment,
but I think the opposite is true.”
“Questions lead to doubt
“The more you know
about something, the more that thing opens up to you, forcing you to recognize
a whole world of information that you had no idea existed. That trail of
information splinters off into an infinite number of paths. Like holding a
flashlight straight down at your feet when it is pitch black. You might ask
what you are standing on? Or, where you are? That question leads you to slowly
lift your flashlight to reveal more information until you see as far as your eyes
or the landscape allows but it is not enough. You may have answered your
initial questions but now you wonder ‘what is behind those rocks?’ ‘what is
behind me?’ ‘Where am I in the grand scheme of things?’ or ‘why am I here?’
“It’s part of human
nature to ask questions.”
“Yes.” Percy pointed
at Sykes “Yes but that nature is flawed, or as eternal optimists might say,
there is room for improvement.”
“As people get
older, they get wiser.” Sykes heard himself. Now Percy raised his eyebrows and
stared at Sykes as if giving him the opportunity to correct himself. Sykes, out
of pride or spite or maybe curiosity, remained silent. Percy responded.
“They do not. We do
not because of the infinite paths of questions. The older we get the more
questions we have. Our initial questions have to do with more practical things
such as how to survive, what to eat, even how to treat others. But we get older
and start becoming fixated on questions that either have no answers or yield
yet more questions. An infinite loop of questions. For example, why did I kill
“Why did you kill
him?” Sykes asked.
Percy sighed and
slouched back in his chair.
“I am trying to tell
you that there is no why. You, his family and friends are upset because I took
a question, an infinite possibility of questions and turned it into a
statement. Instead of ‘what is he up to?’ now it is ‘here lies Shawn.’ That is,
it. The only relief you or anyone else will get is when your own statement is
written, here lies officer Sykes.”
Sykes wasn’t sure
whether to take Percy’s last comment as a threat or not. He was more curious at
the contradiction sitting in front of him. He asked.
“Earlier you pointed
out that it was narrow of me to think dichotomously, god or no god. Now you’re
saying that a living person is a question and a dead person is a statement.
“Did I say that?”
“Isn’t that too
simplistic for your ideology? Isn’t it contradictory to your theory? You’re
either this or that?”
“Yes. Our very
questioning nature, or rather the virus, makes us hypocrites. We cannot retain
all information all the time, so when presented with some information in a
particular situation, we change. We adapt.”
enough. I’m tired of hearing this pseudo-philosophical crap. I’m going to order
that Tommy’s burger and start processing you.” Sykes stood up and walked to the
door. Percy stared at the wall; his hands folded on the table. He seemed to be
“Okay.” He said.
walked out of the room and into the cold hallway of the station. The lights
buzzed and the drinking fountain hummed. For a moment he forgot about their
conversation, as if getting up too fast had pushed it all out of his head. He
walked a few steps to his right and entered the viewing room, where his partner
watched Percy. His partner, a mustached, mousy man with just enough spine to
drive a patrol car, but not enough to conduct the interrogations, asked.
“What do you think
he was talking about? Some sort of cult? New age religious thing?”
“I don’t know,” said
Sykes. “It’s not important why. We know he did it. Order the man a burger and
I’ll start working his file.” Sykes grabbed a folder. He sat down at a desk
facing the two-way mirror. His partner stepped into the hallway to call Tommy’s
and order ahead.
Sykes heard banging
and looked up to see Percy pounding on the table, both palms flat, the chain
bouncing along with his hands. The expression on Percy’s face looked more like
a snarling baboon than the calm man to whom he was just speaking.
Sykes stood and
walked over to the interrogation room. As he was unlocking the door, Percy
Everybody wants to know why but I am not going to tell them. Fuck you Sykes.
Fuck you man behind the mirror.”
Sykes stood at the
door. He twisted the knob and walked in. Percy looked at Sykes and stopped
“How about that
burger, sport?” Percy grinned.
“What was all that
“I needed to vent.
Blow off some steam as they say. You ever do that? Being a Cop is a stressful
Sykes walked back
out of the room and shut the door. He could hear Percy chuckling. The burger
couldn’t arrive fast enough. He sat down and began rifling through the stack of
paperwork. He looked up to see Percy staring at him or at least staring into
the one-way mirror.
“Sykes do you ever
get scared?” said Percy. “Do you have a wife? How often do you apologize to her
or your girlfriend? Do you have kids? How old are they? What are their names
and ages? Where do you live?”
Percy now widened
his eyes and began tilting his head side to side. Something in his voice made
his questions sound like mockery.
“What is your
favorite food? What is your favorite color? Are your parents alive? Are they
divorced? What did they do?”
saw no signs of this stopping. He stood up and walked back out to the hallway.
From the hall he heard Percy’s muffled voice. Unlocking the door, he stepped
Percy sang to the
tune of Miss America theme song.
“There he is, Mr.
“Your burger is
coming Percy. You’ll eat and then be on your way, let’s just keep this easy,
for both of us.”
smiled wide. “I am just trying to construct you Sykes. I am building my image
of you. It is easier if you answer my questions.”
“No.” Said Sykes,
“Then I will have to
use my fabulous imagination.” Percy announced the last two words as if
announcing the title of a children’s TV show.
responded, walking back out and shut the door. He walked back to the table.
Percy started up again.
“I did it. Here is
my confession.” Percy was now staring up at the CCTV camera in the corner of
“I pummeled his face
in with a carrot, if you can believe that. At Trader Joe’s, they have these big
‘ol carrots. I grabbed one in my left-hand and the man’s collar in my right.
Then I started beating him into the wine aisle. He asked me why I was doing it,
of course, no one is immune to the virus Officer Sykes, but I didn’t answer
because I was focusing all my energy into my carrot holding arm.”
“I did it for
self-preservation. He was eating away at a part of my mind and now I find that
there is some relief. I have scratched an itch and feel relieved. You know, I
probably just proved my theory. Perhaps that itch was the virus of meaning
eating away and now it is, well it will probably take on a different form.”
Percy went on. Sykes
did his best to focus on the paperwork though he read sentences over and over a
few times. A photo of the victim before the crime was usually paperclipped to
the reports. Sykes couldn’t find it.
“Ah, my burger!”
Sykes looked up at
the sound of Percy’s sudden delight. Through the two-way mirror, he saw his
partner walk into the interrogation room.
“Thank you,” said
Percy. “I did not think it would really happen. Do they serve burgers in
prison? Are they like sad McDonald’s burgers or do they have all the fixings?
Do you like burgers, Officer Sykes’ partner?”
His partner set the
bag in Percy’s reach and walked back out of the room, closing the door behind
him. Sykes watched as Percy carefully unwrapped the burger and slowly smoothed
down the corners of the paper.
Sykes was so lost in
thought, staring at Percy, he hadn’t noticed that his partner had walked into his
own room. and set down a burger in front of him.
“I got you a burger with cheese.” Sykes was startled out of his daze. His
partner set down the burgers.
“Oh, and the front
desk handed me this on my way in.” Sykes took the folder his partner held out to
him. The smell of burgers telling his mind to wrap this up so he could eat.
He flipped open the
cardstock and a photo fell out. Sykes picked it up and saw the image of a
scrawny male, mid-thirties, Caucasian wearing a Mickey Mouse print t-shirt and
small round spectacles. The victim before his murder, almost exactly as Percy
Squinting his eyes, Sykes thought ‘he does have one of those faces.’